The film industry may dazzle you with its glamour, but becoming a filmmaker needs discipline, hard work, and the ability to compete.
Why did you choose cinema? This is a question that I am very often asked; a genuine curiosity about how a girl, from a family no different from theirs, landed up in the cinema industry.
I will start by answering the same question here as well.
Like any other Mylapore family I was exposed to music and dance at a very young age, probably even before I could properly walk or talk. All my family members were inclined towards some form of art or creative activity but of course only as hobbies. As I grew up I realised that I loved the stage while performing for plays, loved to dream along with my favourite songs, loved to throw colours on paper and see a new form and loved to choreograph and dance to express my emotions. Above all, I loved being taken to an imaginary world every time I watched a film.
When the crucial time came for me to decide on which course to apply for in college, cinema too felt like a distant world for me. But, I knew I did not want to give up any of the things I loved so much and didn't want them to end up just as a hobby later in life. That is when I took up visual communication.
It was during this course that I was exposed to wonderful activities like photography and watching world cinema. It was also during this time that I won Ms. Chennai which led me to pursue a modelling career and this in turn got me very curious about what goes on behind the scenes. Over time my interests in the many creative activities grew and cinema became the one platform where I could indulge in all of them.
Soon after college I worked under various filmmakers to get a first-hand experience in filmmaking. After making many short films, documentaries and corporate films on my own, I am now hoping to graduate as an Assistant Director to a Director in the world of feature films.
Who doesn't love cinema? With all its glitz and glamour and the larger than life world it projects it's so easy to love it. But, before you jump into it saying you want to be part of this world, take a moment to think if its infatuation or true love. All the glitz and glamour that you see outside is actually very superficial. What is behind it is days and months of hard work, lot of sweat (literally), long hours of work, sleepless nights and a lot of stress. And if your passion to tell a story surpasses all this then you are at the right place. If you are in films for the glamour and money involved then you will be in for a different reality. Yes, successful filmmakers, actors and other technicians do get a fat pay cheque but that is only at a certain point in their career. All assistant technicians and sometimes even first-time technicians are mostly paid a pittance and it is only when they deliver continuous hits that their remuneration gets better.
Cinema is a place where the true meaning of “survival of the fittest” can be realised. People here are always struggling; to get their first break or to keep up their current positions or struggling to narrate a better story than before. The journey has its highs and lows. It requires get great mental strength to stay focused towards the goal, overlooking all the initial struggles.
So where does one start? There are many institutes that provide cinema-related courses. It is up to the individual to decide whether they want to do a formal course in cinema or work directly under a director. Like there are no hard and fast rules to making a film there are no set rules to getting into the film industry.
With regard to entering the world of mainstream cinema, one has to work on a film as an assistant to fully understand the nuances of filmmaking, irrespective of the professional education completed. The experience one gets on the sets with technicians cannot be compared to anything that is learnt in any course. Working on a film will not only build your network but also gives you a first-hand experience in all aspects of filmmaking.
It will help you gain the confidence to take immediate decisions when faced with any issues especially when a director is given the huge responsibility of a film. A director's job is to make sure all the departments in a film work together in harmony and assisting under a director will be a good training ground to handle such situations.
Unlike corporate jobs, film directors never look out for an assistant with a degree in filmmaking. He will see if you have that spark in you, if you are hard working and if you have the capabilities to make his tough job easy. But personally I feel if you do have a basic filmmaking background it would help you grasp the technical aspects of filmmaking and thereby be a better assistant.
Most specialised filmmaking courses in India provide only a PG diploma or certificate courses in direction like the L.V Prasad Film and TV institute (www.prasadacademy.com/), Film and TV Institute, Pune (http://www.ftiindia.com/), Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (http://www.srfti.gov.in/), Mindscreen Film Institute (http://www.mindscreen.co.in/index.htm). Most of them do not make it compulsory to have an art or related undergraduate degree to apply. But then again if you are very sure about cinema then a B.Sc. in Vis Comm, electronic media, fine art or any such related courses would give you a better foundation. Some colleges provide courses in editing, sound, etc., which can be applied for right after your schooling.
All these are just guidelines and it is up to you to decide which path works best for you. A great filmmaker like Mani Ratnam broke all rules by having no formal training in filmmaking and by not assisting any filmmaker before he made his first film.
As a filmmaker you are not restricted to just feature films. You have various options like documentary filmmaking, wildlife filmmaking, ad films, corporate films, etc. The television industry on its own gives you a wide variety and options of game shows, TV series, etc.
Let me end this article with the second common question I am asked. “Is cinema safe for girls?”
My answer for that would be — You can say cinema is as safe as any other industry or as unsafe as any other industry, at the end of the day what matters is how we carry ourselves.
The author is a filmmaker based in Chennai.